Timeline: Fifth season, in between Timeless and Infinite Regress
Spoilers: A few references to the season five episode Night
Feedback: Yes! I would love some. Even if it’s just to say that you’ve read it. Also, if I’ve made any glaring errors in describing the technicalities of football, please email me and I’ll correct them – email@example.com
Vocabulary note: To avoid confusion, as I’m from England, I’ve used British terminology when writing about soccer.
The stars denote italics.
Okay, nearly done. A big thank you to my friend Danielle for her helpful comments and suggestions, and for being ‘on the ball’ in spotting things I totally missed.
This story is for Bungle and Topsy, the free-range guinea pigs.
Take Me Out to the Soccer Pitch
Chapter 1 – "How about a soccer match?"
*"Morale Officer’s log, stardate 52143.6
After that unfortunate incident with the Sri’Tiran, several weeks have passed with not so much as a gaseous anomaly. The crew is getting bored and restless, and it is my job as Morale Officer to raise their spirits.
If only I knew how.
End log." *
"Enjoy your breakfast Mr. Ayala," the Talaxian said brightly after he served the dark crewman. But Ayala only nodded dully in response, and went to sit down.
Neelix frowned. Ayala was usually a good-humoured and upbeat sort of man; obviously the lack of action over the past weeks was affecting him too.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a couple enter the mess hall. As they got closer, Neelix could hear them arguing.
"I can’t believe you talked me into that! Of all the stupid, pig-headed --"
"B’Elanna, I thought you’d enjoy it."
"You thought wrong."
"Well excuse me for trying to --"
Neelix cut in sharply. "Good morning, Lieutenants. What would you like for breakfast?"
B’Elanna glared at the pilot before turning her attention to the cook. "Just coffee for me, Neelix."
The Morale Officer’s brow furrowed. "Ditto? I’m not sure I have anything called ditto."
"Coffee, Neelix," Torres said impatiently. "He wants coffee."
*If only humans would say what they mean, mused Neelix as he set about getting their drinks, things would be a lot easier.* Like yesterday, for instance. He’d been telling Lieutenant Chapman the importance of eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, when the crewman had told him quite irritably to "take a hike". What that would accomplish, he didn’t know. It certainly bore no reference to healthy eating.
"Fun? You call that fun? That P’taq was --"
"He wasn’t a P’taq, you’re over-reacting."
Neelix set two mugs of steaming coffee on the counter before the bickering officers. "Here you go. It’s one of my special blends – I call it ‘Full of beans’.
"We’re honoured," Tom said with a smile, picking up his cup.
"Before you go," the Talaxian said hastily, "I’d like to talk to you both about something."
"We’re listening," said Torres, sipping her coffee.
"Do you remember when we travelled through that void four months ago?"
Paris rolled his eyes. "How could we forget?"
"And do you remember how miserable and argumentative the crew got during those days in the void?"
"Yes," said Torres slowly, not sure what the cook was getting at. "We were at each other’s throats day and night."
"Sounds familiar," Tom muttered.
Before the engineer could retort, Neelix jumped in quickly. "Well, it’s happening again. Look around you."
Tom and B’Elanna exchanged glances before looking round the mess hall. They were shocked at what they saw.
Some crewmen were sitting grimly at tables, staring off into space. Others were quarrelling. Even Harry Kim, one of the most optimistic and cheerful people onboard, was sitting with his head in his hands, the very picture of dejection.
The couple turned back to Neelix. Paris raised his eyebrows. "I see what you mean."
Torres was forced to agree. "I didn’t think things were quite this bad."
The Talaxian nodded. "And we can’t let it get any worse," he said firmly. "Inactivity causes people to dwell on their homes, and that in turn leads to depression. What we need is something to occupy them. Something that they can all look forward to. A break from routine."
B’Elanna leaned forwards on the counter. "How about another luau?"
"We’ve done at least seven already. It’s time for something different."
"Um…some kind of talent show?"
Neelix frowned. "We did one last year."
"A play? Or perhaps a musical?"
"The Doctor would almost certainly want to be the lead part."
Torres thought that over. "Good point. If I hear him sing that damned requiem one more time, I’ll destabilise his holo-matrix."
She glanced at the helmsman. "Tom, you haven’t said a word in all of this. You’re normally the one with the suggestions."
The pilot was staring out at the stars rushing past, seemingly paying no attention at all to the conversation."
"Tom? Are you even listening -- "
He held up his hand. "Hold on a minute. I’m thinking."
Torres shook her head and went back to her coffee.
"Something different," he murmured. "Something that’ll get the whole crew involved. Something exciting…" His eyes lit up, and he turned to the pair in exultation. "How about a soccer match?"
The half-Klingon whipped her head up to look at him. "No."
"Soc-ker? What is Soc-ker? I’m not familiar --"
Torres cut the Talaxian off in mid-sentence. "Soccer is a lousy, outdated sport where you kick a ball into a net."
Tom shook his head vigorously. "No, no, it’s not like that at all, Neelix. Soccer is a team game – you have two opposing teams, and each one has to get the ball into the other’s net, which is guarded by a goal-keeper."
"It’s slow and boring; trust me on this, Neelix."
"It is not slow and boring, B’Elanna – most of the time you’re sprinting up and down the pitch, trying to get the ball -- "
"Which is utterly pointless in the long run anyway."
Tom folded his arms across his chest. "And why is that?"
Torres slammed her mug down on the counter, causing some of the liquid to spill. "It’s pointless because when someone does have the ball, you can’t take it off them without the referee yelling ‘foul’ at you."
"The only reason he did that was because you knocked the poor guy unconscious."
"But I still got the ball."
"Yes," he said patiently, "but the whole idea of soccer is to take the ball away from your opponent using skill, not strength."
"Are you saying that I don’t have -- "
"I think it’s a great idea."
The pair stopped their arguing and stared at the cook.
"You do?" Torres said dubiously.
"Absolutely," Neelix enthused. "It’ll be just what we need to get this crew back on their feet again."
Tom grinned. "Come round my quarters and I’ll show you a holo-vid of how the game used to be played. Then we can take it from there."
During the next few days, the crew were surprised and more than a little heartened at the notice which appeared on their briefing screens:
*Attention all crewmembers. There will be a soccer match on stardate 52168.9 If you are interested in playing, please contact either Lieutenant Paris or myself. If you do not know how to play, there will be training sessions held beforehand.
- Morale Officer Neelix *
"So who’ve we got?" asked Tom, pulling up a chair.
Neelix held up the padd. "So far, we have Ensign Kim, Lieutenant Carey, Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Ayala, Ensign Vorik and the Doctor."
"That’s only six people – eight if you include you and me," the pilot exclaimed. "I thought the crew would jump at the chance to sign up."
"I think they’d rather be spectators than participants."
Paris frowned, rubbing his brow. "Put B’Elanna down. That’ll give us enough for a four-aside game at least."
"B’Elanna? I thought she hated soccer."
"She does, but I’ll talk her into it. Besides, she’s the only one apart from me who knows how to play."
Neelix poured himself another cup of Talaxian tea. "It’s odd that no women have signed up."
Tom shrugged. "Well, soccer’s always been a very male-dominated sport. Back then, men thought that women lacked the necessary skills to play the sport, so they were discouraged from taking part, even though the women were just as good as the men."
"Samantha Wildman should put her name down. Naomi tells me she’s quite the athlete. I’ll have to persuade her to sign up."
The pilot nodded. "Good thinking, Neelix. Add Seven and the Captain to the list too."
Neelix looked surprised. "I doubt they’d join in."
Paris smiled. "Don’t be so sure."
"Soccer is irrelevant."
"Oh come on, Seven," Paris said as he strode alongside the ex-Borg. "It’ll be fun."
"Fun is also irrelevant."
"Now that’s where you’re wrong. Think about it. The crew has a low morale at the moment. Correct?"
She inclined her head. "That does seem to be the case."
"Right. Now, low morale means that the crew aren’t functioning as efficiently as they once were. I have the figures here to prove it."
He handed her the padd. She glanced at the display, then returned it to him. "The figures appear to support your argument."
"So if this soccer match boosts morale, it would be safe to assume that the efficiency ratings would be boosted as well."
"Lieutenant, your logic is simplistic and flawed."
"Oh? How so?"
"You are assuming that the majority of the crew will benefit from watching this sport. My research shows that humanitarian tastes are somewhat more diverse."
Tom shook his head. "You want to study humanity? This is the perfect opportunity. There’ll be tears, laughter, drama, disappointment, elation. When you’re out on the pitch, you’ll experience virtually the whole spectrum of emotions in the space of an hour."
The ex-Borg raised an eyebrow. "I was not aware that the human psyche was so limited."
He groaned in frustration. "Come on, Seven. Will you play or not?" The pair came to a stop outside the Astrometrics lab. Seven keyed in the access code, then turned to the pilot. "The enterprise is an inefficient use of time and energy. I fail to see its benefits." She stepped into the lab. "However, the Doctor has been encouraging me to interact more with the crew. Therefore, I have decided to comply."
The Captain had been surprisingly easy to convince, Paris mused as he headed towards B’Elanna’s quarters. He’d followed Neelix’s advice, and had hit her with good old guilt trip. *Captain, it’s for the good of the ship. More people will come if they know you’re playing. You have to set a good example. You don’t want the crew to go space-crazy.* Worked like a charm.
He pressed the door chime, quickly re-arranging the roses in his hand. As the doors swished open, he held them out to her.
The doors closed, nearly trapping his arm. Fortunately, he was able to remove it in time. The roses weren’t so lucky. He was left with a bunch of headless stalks.
This was going to be harder than he thought.
"Paris to Torres," he said, tapping his comm badge.
*"Go away, Tom."*
A couple of crewmen walked by, giving him odd stares. He smiled and waved at them, hoping to give the illusion that it was perfectly all right to be standing outside his girlfriend’s quarters with the remains of a bouquet caught in the door.
As soon as they had gone, he redoubled his efforts. "B’Elanna, at least hear me out."
*"I know what you’re going to say, and the answer is no."*
He could hear footsteps coming round the corner. Voices.
It couldn’t be.
"B’Elanna," he hissed frantically, "The Captain’s coming. Come on, let me in."
He spun round at the sound of his name, leaning back against the stems in an effort to conceal them.
Oh damn…Chakotay was with her.
"Captain, Commander," he stammered. "I-- " He winced at the sharp pain in the middle of his back. *Why the hell did I program them with thorns?*
"Something wrong, Lieutenant?" Chakotay asked.
"No, no, not at all." He could feel his eyes watering and prayed to whatever deity was listening that they wouldn’t notice. "B’Elanna hadn’t…um… she didn’t…uh…" *think!*, "she didn’t know if her door chime was working or not, so I’m out here. Testing it. I’m testing it for her."
Chakotay had developed a suspicious coughing fit all of a sudden, and the Captain’s mouth was twitching. "That’s…" She cleared her throat. "That’s very helpful of you, Tom." The Indian seemed to choke at that.
The two senior officers all but ran down the corridor. The pilot watched them go, his face burning. Behind him, the doors slid open.
"Quick, get inside before the Captain comes. You don’t want to make a complete fool of yourself."
He shot her a dirty look as he knelt to pick up the fallen roses. "Glad you find it so amusing."
"Oh, come on. ‘Testing the door chime’? You have to admit, that was pretty lame."
He placed the mutilated flowers on the nearest table. "Well, now that you’ve humiliated me in front of my commanding officers, don’t you think you should at least do me the courtesy of playing in the soccer match?"
Her eyes narrowed, and she was about to open her mouth when he interrupted her. "B’Elanna, none of the others know how to play properly. I can’t teach them by myself. I *need* you. Besides," he said, stepping up close to slide his arms round her, "even though you say you hate the game, you’re actually really good at it."
She eyed him sceptically.
"I’m serious – you’ve got the speed, the agility, the skill. You’re a natural. Please?" He concentrated hard on looking sorrowfully hopeful, the way Harry always did when he wanted something.
She shook her head and turned away. *Guess it needs more practise.*
"All right. I’ll play."
"Anything. Just name them."
The engineer walked thoughtfully around the sofa. "Number one – I get to captain a team."
"Number two – I get to pick who’s in it."
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "That’s fine too. Absolutely fine."
"And number three --"
"Wait a minute, I thought you said there were only two conditions."
"Do you want me to play or not?"
He back-pedalled quickly. "You’re perfectly right. Condition number three?"
"You have to make me breakfast in bed for a week."
He swallowed. "A week?"
Torres pursed her lips. "Now that I think about it, a week does seem a little unfair. Better make it two."
"Two weeks. Right." He started backing towards the door, trying to escape before she made any more demands. "I better go; I’ve got a shift in sickbay. The Doc’ll spit feathers if I’m late."
The last thing he saw before the
doors closed was B’Elanna smiling sweetly at him.
Chapter 2 – "It is more difficult than it appears."
Tom Paris surveyed the people in front of him. Most of them were wearing sweats and T-shirts. A few, like Seven and Vorik, were dressed in their usual outfits.
"All right, listen up," he shouted, clapping his hands. He got a few desultory glances, but that was all.
Taking a whistle out of his pocket, he blew it long and hard. That got their attention. He motioned them to come closer.
"Isn’t this exciting?" Neelix said, as they all came together. "What with the pitch and the stadium, I feel like a soccer star already."
"A feeling that will no doubt change once you begin training," the Doctor commented dryly.
"All right," said the pilot, "first thing’s first. I’d like all of you to come to the next practise wearing the appropriate footwear. You can’t kick a ball with heels on." He glared pointedly at Seven.
"You sound like my old gym teacher," Harry joked.
Tom didn’t smile.
The ensign coughed and stepped back a few feet.
"Second thing. I want to thank all of you for giving up your time to come out here. And I know that not all of you know how to play soccer, but don’t worry; we’ll have regular training sessions every day until the day of the match."
Samantha Wildman raised her hand. "Could we make them in the late afternoon? It’s just that I start getting Naomi ready for bed at 1900."
Carey frowned. "My shift doesn’t finish until then."
"Mine doesn’t either," Ayala chipped in.
Tom held up his hands to halt any further mumblings about shift times. "We’ll sort the training sessions out later. First we need to organise teams."
Janeway rolled her eyes. "I hate this part. At school I was always the last one picked."
"I know what you mean," began Neelix. "I -- "
The Talaxian was interrupted by a shrill burst of the whistle.
"Captain, Neelix, pay attention." He missed the look that Janeway shot him.
"B’Elanna and I are gonna be the team captains, since we’ve had more experience playing the game." Somewhere at the back, Harry cleared his throat loudly. Tom ignored him. "B’Elanna’s already picked her team."
The engineer handed him the padd with her selections on it. This was the first time he’d gotten a look at the names. He skimmed it quickly, and his heart sank.
"On B’Elanna’s team, we have: Chakotay, Samantha Wildman, Harry Kim, Ayala and Joe Carey." Good choices. In fact, they were very good choices. Very good choices indeed.
"Something wrong, Tom?" Chakotay asked.
He let out a breath slowly, pasting on a grin. He could see B’Elanna smirking. "Not at all," he said between gritted teeth. Addressing the group, he said "That means the rest of you are with me.
B’Elanna and I have decided to train our teams separately; that way it’ll be a bit more of a competition. The match will be in two weeks, so I suggest you meet up with your team now to discuss practice times."
The group diffused into two. Tom made his way over to the goalpost, where his team joined him.
"Lieutenant," Vorik began, "I believe it is customary to assign a name to one’s team."
Tom privately thought *The Motley Crew* would be quite apt, though he didn’t say so.
"I propose *Team Alpha*." That offering was from Seven.
"Oh no, we need something more imaginative," said the Captain, her eyes shining. "Something that will strike fear into the hearts of our opponents."
Neelix took on an expression of thought. "How about *The Delta Destroyers?* Or *Paris’s Pulverisers?*"
"The Spartans?" the Doctor suggested.
Tom nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, I like the sound of that. The Spartans it is."
And thus the Spartans were born. These six people would face challenge after challenge, trial after trial, adversity after adversity in their quest before they were ready to take on their fearsome opponents…The Titans.
"That’s it, keep the ball close to your feet," Paris called.
It was the next day, and The Spartans were learning how to dribble. Brightly coloured markers had been set up in lines across the pitch, and each team member had to dribble their ball in and out of the cones.
Tom walked among them, offering advice and encouragement. Oddly enough, the best one among them was the Doctor.
"You’ve really got the hang of this, Doc."
The hologram didn’t bother to look up. "Yes, I have, I haven’t I?"
Vorik wasn’t doing too badly either. And the Captain was trying, as was Neelix, although the cook seemed to spend more time chasing after the ball than kicking it.
The real puzzle was Seven. Her efficient, precise movements seemed to go out the window when it came to dribbling. She kept tripping over the ball, the cones – even her own feet.
"I thought all those Borg reflexes would make soccer a cinch," Tom commented as Seven stumbled yet again.
She glared at him in irritation. "It is more difficult than it appears."
"Okay. Try not to rush it. Let me see you do it again. Remember, take it slowly."
On another set of cones, the Doctor was concentrating hard, when suddenly a ball flew across his path, followed by a Talaxian-shaped blur.
"Mr. Neelix," he said in exasperation, "how am I ever going to improve my dribbling if you keep interrupting me all the time?"
The cook looked repentant. "I’m sorry, Doctor," he said as Vorik kicked the ball back to him, "but the ball seems to have a life of its own."
"Well, I’d appreciate it if you and your sentient ball could practise further away. Preferably down the other end of the pitch."
"Right you are," Neelix replied good-naturedly. "I have to say though, I’m enjoying all this immensely. We look quite the professionals."
"That we do," announced Janeway, coming up behind them. "I just dribbled up a whole line of cones using both feet."
"Really?" the Talaxian said excitedly, "that’s great!"
"It’s a pity Seven hasn’t got the hang of it yet," noted the Doctor. The three watched as Paris demonstrated yet again what he wanted the ex-Borg to do, and her attempt to copy him.
"It is rather peculiar," Neelix agreed. "I wonder how the Titans are getting on."
"Just fine," B’Elanna replied as she took a bite of breakfast.
"Good, good. So are we." Paris regarded the engineer as he sat on the edge of her bed. She was obviously enjoying her food, tucking into the Rilaniak sausages with relish. "So the training sessions are going okay?"
"Fine. Mmm, these are lovely. Here, try one."
He took a bite off her fork, and mulled it around in his mouth. Tasted sort of like cinnamon, with a hint of… onion? He tried unsuccessfully to hide his disgust at the unpleasant taste; obviously Klingon palates were somewhat different from human ones. Quickly swallowing the morsel, he changed tactics.
"Must be difficult having such an amateur team to train."
"Well, you’d know."
He raised his eyebrows indignantly. "My team is not amateur!"
"Whatever you say." She reached for her coffee.
"I’ll have you know," he said, leaning forward, "the Doc’s got dribbling down to a T. And the Captain – " He stopped abruptly. Golden rule of a soccer coach: never reveal vital team information to the opposition. And he’d just disregarded it completely.
B’Elanna was watching him with an amused expression on her face. "Yes, Tom? What about the Captain?"
He sighed, conceding defeat. "Doesn’t matter. So what time are you off tonight?"
She took a sip of her coffee. "1800, but I’ve arranged a practice. You know, I never thought I’d say it, but I’m really enjoying this. Much better than bat’leth combat." She turned back to her meal, missing his look of panic. If B’Elanna was enjoying herself, it could only mean one thing. The Titans were shaping up nicely. Her team was going to win.
Chapter 3 – "Computer, insert opponents."
"So if I pick the ball up with my hands, that’s… what’s that again?"
"Hand ball," repeated Tom, patiently.
Neelix scratched his nose thoughtfully. "And if I do that, the other team gets a free kick."
"But what happens if I accidentally touch the ball with my hands? Or if someone kicks it at me, and it hits my hands?"
"Neelix," began the Captain in a threatening tone, rubbing her temples.
"I’m sorry, Captain," the cook said apologetically. "I’m just making sure of the rules so I don’t do anything to let the team down."
"Your inability to remember information is remarkable," Vorik commented.
"Settle down, guys," Tom warned. "Let’s try to focus here. Neelix, I’ll go through the rules again with you afterwards, okay?"
Neelix looked displeased, but agreed. "All right."
The Spartans were sitting round a table in the holodeck, with Tom attempting to show them the rules via a holographic pitch that was projected in the middle of the table for all to see. The pilot touched a few controls, and the display changed.
"All right, on to positions. We’re playing six-aside, so we’ll need a goalkeeper, two defenders, two attackers and a centre. I’ve already assigned the positions based on what I think are your strengths and weaknesses. Seven, you’re the goalkeeper. Neelix and I will be defending, Vorik and the Captain attacking, and the Doc’ll be centre."
The EMH looked incredibly smug with his position. Seven, on the other hand, looked anything but.
"I must protest," she ground out.
Tom regarded her in bewilderment. "Why?"
She looked round the table, blue eyes flashing, then back at him. "I do not wish to be a goalkeeper."
He caught the Captain’s eye – she looked just as confused as he did.
"The goalkeeper cannot participate actively in the match, or direct the course of the game. From my study of soccer, I have found that a match can take place without the goalkeeper even touching the ball. That is unacceptable."
Ever the kind-hearted, Neelix spoke up. "I don’t mind being the goalkeeper, Tom, if Seven wants to swap."
The pilot held up his hand to silence the well-meaning cook. "Thank you Neelix, but that won’t be necessary." He turned to the ex-Borg. "Seven, the goalkeeper is the most important position in the game." He missed the Doctor’s deflated look. "It’s the only thing that stands between the team’s winning or losing."
She looked unconvinced.
"We need someone we can rely on to defend the goal whilst we’re up the other side of the pitch attacking. Someone who’s got reflexes fast enough to stop any ball coming their way. And Seven, you’ve got the fastest reflexes out of any of us here." The Captain, EMH and Neelix backed him up by nodding encouragingly.
Seven appeared to consider what he’d said, then raised an eyebrow at him. "Very well. I accept."
He went on to show them what their positions required of them, and, after making sure they understood the areas on the field where they could and could not go, he decided to call it a night. As the others left, he accessed the holodeck controls, saved the program and shut it down.
On the walk back to his quarters, he reflected on the team’s progress so far. There was one week to go; already they’d covered the basics of dribbling, passing, tackling and game play. He’d walked into sickbay the other day to start his shift, only to find the Doctor doing a multitude of headers with a ball into an empty container. And he’d caught the Captain on more than one occasion moving down the corridor doing a dribbling action with her feet.
But he’d decided last night, during the sleepless hours of wondering whether this was all just a big mistake, that it was time for the Spartans to put their knowledge, and their skills (a loose term in this case), into practise. He’d been writing a holodeck program specially for the occasion, and tomorrow evening they were going to try it out.
"Computer, insert opponents." Obediently, five large, humanoid males winked into existence on the pitch.
Tom turned to his team. "Imagine that these guys are the Titans. I want you all to get into your positions, and we’ll play thirty minutes each way. I’ll be on the sidelines coaching."
Neelix, who was gasping in horror, turned to the pilot. "But…they’re so…big!" he stuttered.
"Big?" Paris echoed, regarding the holograms sceptically.
"They are a little imposing," the Captain said discreetly.
Stifling a sigh, Tom ordered the computer to decrease their size by a quarter. "Happy now, Neelix?"
The cook didn’t reply, although he looked less afraid for his life. Paris took that to be a good thing.
"All right, positions please," he called. The Spartans jogged out to their respective positions. There was a slight moment of confusion on Janeway’s part as to where her position actually was, however she was pointed in the right direction by Vorik, so all was well.
"Computer, insert referee," Paris said as he rolled a ball towards the Doctor.
The pilot nodded at the referee, the whistle was blown, and play commenced.
He wished he could have said afterwards that he’d never been so proud of his team. Or even that they had potential. But it would have been a lie. The truth was… they were awful.
It started off well. Granted, the holograms had gained possession of the ball immediately and were heading down towards the goal, however Seven’s lightening-quick reflexes prevented them from scoring. Then Neelix had gotten possession, and he couldn’t seem to get it into his thick Talaxian skull that kicking the ball a long distance then running after it was *not* the way to play soccer. After the eighth time, Tom could take it no more.
"Computer, freeze program," he shouted, jogging over to the Talaxian. "Neelix, what are you doing?"
The cook gazed at him in bewilderment. "Trying to get the ball down to the attackers."
"Wrong. You’re *giving* the ball away to the other team. Remember what you learnt during dribbling? Keep the ball close to your feet. If you kick it out ahead of you, there’s nothing to stop the other team from intercepting it."
"Oh, of course! How silly of me," Neelix exclaimed.
"So you understand then?"
"Yes, definitely. Keep the ball close to my feet."
Play resumed, and despite his assurances to the contrary, the Talaxian proceeded to do exactly what he was doing before. Paris nearly made himself hoarse by shouting at him to keep the ball close.
And then there was the Doctor, who evidently did not understand the meaning of ‘team player’. "Doc, you can’t keep hogging the ball all the time," Paris rebuked him after calling him over. "You’ve got to pass it to the others."
The EMH folded his arms in disagreement. "I don’t see why. If I have a chance to go for goal, I should take it."
"Vorik was closer to the goal. You could’ve passed it to him and increased the chances of it going in."
"I didn’t want to take that risk."
Paris curled his hand into a fist behind his back, then released it again. Hitting the Doc would only break his fingers. "Fine. You want to know why you can’t just run around with the ball all the time? Get back on pitch and I’ll show you."
So in hindsight, it was a mean thing to do, but he was irritated with the EMH and wanted to teach him a lesson. Plus his throat hurt. That was why he told the computer softly to make all five members of the opposing team go after the Doctor. It was quite possibly the first time he’d ever heard the Doc shriek.
Added to the fact that the Captain kept forgetting where offside was, by the end of the evening there was a part of him that considered sitting down quietly somewhere and having hysterics.
Chapter 4 – "I thought it’d be more authentic."
"All right, everyone clear on what’s happening tomorrow?" Paris asked the Spartans, who were sitting in the lounge of his quarters.
"Play commences in holodeck two at 1800," Vorik said.
"Correct, but I want you all to be there in your team kits at 1700 so we can start warming up before kick-off."
"I was not aware that we had to wear a uniform," Seven said. "What purpose does it serve?"
"It makes it easier for us to see
who’s on our team, so we don’t end up passing to the opponents by accident."
"Neither would I," said Seven.
The Doctor smiled craftily. "Mr. Neelix and the Captain on the other hand…"
Seeing the look of indignation on Janeway’s face, and Neelix’s mouth open to retaliate, Paris said quickly, "It also helps the spectators follow the game better. Plus it looks more professional."
To forestall any further disagreement on the subject, he quickly fetched the kit from the box in the corner and handed the clothing round. He and B’Elanna had decided on white shorts and striped T-shirts – his team had green stripes, hers, red.
"Tom, what are the badges for?" the Captain asked, intrigued, as she inspected her shirt.
"Well, back then, there were often large companies who would sponsor the teams," he explained, as he handed the goalkeeper outfit to Seven. "In return for sponsorship, the players had to display the logo of the company – that way, when the cameras were on the player, the company would get more coverage."
"But there are no companies to sponsor us," Vorik pointed out.
Tom shrugged. "Poetic license. I thought it’d be more authentic."
"If only he paid as much attention to detail when cleaning sickbay," the Doctor muttered darkly to Seven.
The meeting continued for a while longer as they went over tactics and strategies. The Captain, although not one of the best strikers ever to grace the pitch, had a real knack for planning different formation scenarios, or ‘battle plans’ as Paris once heard her refer to them. Questions and queries were answered. They were ready for action.
Although it had just turned 1700, already the stands were filling up. Of course, the large majority of spectators were holographic, but he’d spotted two crewmen from security amongst the crowd. The Captain had informed him that roughly half the crew would be at the first half of the match, then they’d go back on duty so that the other half of the crew could watch.
He’d also spotted the Titans down the other end of the pitch, warming up. Chakotay was apparently their goalie, judging by his yellow shirt. The Indian was large and strong – good qualities for a goalkeeper, however his reflexes were no match for Seven’s. Paris nodded his head in satisfaction. So far, so good.
The Spartans jogged into his field of vision across the other side of the field, passing Tuvok on the way. The Vulcan was in full referee attire, and was alternatively scrutinising the pitch from different angles whilst checking his padd. Probably making sure he knew all the rules, Tom thought. He was grateful to have such a meticulous referee, and made a mental note to get the Vulcan a ‘thank you’ gift after the match was over.
Something struck him as odd about his team as they passed the corner flag. There didn’t seem to be as many of them as normal. In fact, he was pretty sure there was one missing.
He started, and turned towards the source of the shout. "Neelix! Why aren’t you warming up with the others?"
The Talaxian looked down-right angry. "I’ve spent the past five minutes trying to work out where these went, then the team ran off without me, and I’ve been calling your name for goodness knows how long, and --"
"Calm down," he interrupted, taking the pair of shin pads which the cook was dangling before him. "I’ll help you put them on." Pre-match nerves, he reckoned, as he knelt down. People got jittery.
The Spartans jogged up behind them just as they’d finished strapping on the last shin pad. Paris sent Neelix off jogging round the pitch, and started leading the team in stretches.
Fifty minutes later, the noise level in the stands had risen considerably as more crewmen arrived. The stadium was packed. Naomi Wildman was whirling her clanger enthusiastically on the front row, her face painted with red stripes. Cute, Tom thought, although he had reservations about her choice of colour.
He’d gathered his team around to give them a final pep talk, and took a moment to gauge their feelings. The Captain had a determined expression; the kind she wore just after announcing a red alert. The Doctor looked irritated, though Paris put that down to the fact that he’d just banned the EMH from taking pre-match photographs. Neelix was wobbling on one leg trying to adjust his shin pad. Vorik looked calm enough, though Paris had heard the Vulcan chanting a meditation earlier whilst dribbling. Seven had a slight frown on her face.
"I just want to say a few quick words before we start," Paris began. "Try to keep calm; remember what we’ve gone through in our practises."
"I’m so nervous my mind’s gone blank," Neelix said, trying for a smile but failing.
"It’ll all come back once you’re out there," the pilot reassured him. "Just remember that we’re a team; if you’ve got the ball, there’ll always be someone you can pass to if you think you’re going to lose possession. And remember to space out; use the whole pitch, don’t huddle together in a corner.
The other team have had just as long to prepare for this match as you have, and I think we’ve got a pretty good chance at winning. If we don’t; who cares. Just go out there, play hard, and enjoy it."
The players were in their respective places.
The crowd were drumming their feet on the floor.
The whistle blew.
At first, it looked as if the Titans would score within the first minute. Torres passed the ball back to Ayala, who kicked it down towards the Spartans’ goal. Wildman and Paris ran to meet it, Paris using his height to take it on the head, passing it to Neelix, who passed it back to Seven. Using her superior strength, the ex-Borg sent the ball down the other side of the pitch, much to the Spartans’ relief.
Play continued down that end of the pitch for some time; there were two corners given, plus a couple of throw-ins. Ayala was doing quite a decent job at defending, though Joe Carey seemed to be running round rather than actually engaging with the ball. Vorik managed to get a shot at goal, but it was deflected by Chakotay, who passed the ball to Kim. It was then that things started to go very, very wrong.
From what Paris could see, Janeway and Vorik were trying gamely to tackle Kim, but he evaded them easily. The Doctor made an attempt, but Harry passed him too. The Ensign steamed up the pitch towards the Spartans’ goal. Paris sprinted towards him; they tangled briefly, the pilot fell, Kim kept going, "Neelix!" Paris screamed from his place in the mud, but the cook didn’t have a prayer. With a well-aimed kick, Harry sent the ball shooting into the top corner of the net.
"Goal!" the crowd roared, as Kim did a victory run towards his team mates. *He’s done this before*, Paris realised as he picked himself up, *Harry plays soccer and he never told me.*
The Spartans’ game improved somewhat after Vorik started marking Kim constantly, the young Vulcan’s superior speed and quick reflexes making it very difficult for anyone to pass to the ensign. However, this meant that only Janeway and the Doctor were free to go for goal, and neither were particularly good at striking. The Titans were forced to make use of their other players; B’Elanna in particular was quite a threat, however Paris knew her strengths and weaknesses and was able to intercept the ball from her. The fourth time he did that, she actually swore at him, albeit in Klingon. Sam Wildman, cheered on by her daughter, got a few shots at goal, but Seven saved them each time. Neelix wasn’t much help at all.
Quite unexpectedly, in the second quarter, the Spartans scored a goal. The Doctor, who had been growing more and more cocky as the game progressed, dribbled past Carey; Chakotay made the fatal mistake of coming out the goal towards him, the Doctor slipped it past, and suddenly it was one all for the Spartans.
No more goals had been scored by the time Tuvok blew the whistle for half time after 45 minutes. The teams dispersed to opposite sides of the pitch to regroup and re-examine their play.
"Ensign Kim is a most proficient player," said Vorik, with a trace of irritation.
"You’re doing a great job," Paris told him, breathing heavily as he took a swig of water. "You all are. But if we’re going to win, we need to take more risks. Captain, if you’ve got a shot at the goal, no matter how far away, take it. That goes for you too, Doc. And Neelix, don’t worry about trying to get the ball off the attackers; just get in their way as much as possible. If they do get past us, we’ve got Seven there."
The second half started soon after, but within the first couple of minutes, Vorik went down. It happened like this: the Captain, heeding Paris’ advice, took a shot at goal from the half way mark. Of course, the ball didn’t actually reach the goal, but its ascent was steep, and it did reach Kim and Vorik, who both jumped up to header it. The Doctor, who was also near them, decided that he would try for the ball as well. Unfortunately, upon jumping, the Doctor lost his balance and fell backwards into Vorik and Kim. All three landed in a heap on the pitch.
The crowd was hushed as play stopped, and the teams rushed towards their players. "Everyone okay?" Paris asked, kneeling down beside them.
"I think I’m gonna have a bruise on my side the size of Epsilon," Harry said, wincing as B’Elanna pulled him to his feet. The EMH was also unharmed, and was getting the med-kit out.
"Vorik? How about you?"
The Vulcan was frowning at the Doctor, breathing heavily. "My ankle appears to be broken."
"I’m so sorry," Kim said.
"It was not your fault, Ensign. It was the Doctor’s fault. He landed on my foot."
The EMH looked up from his medical tricorder, a wounded expression on his face. "It wasn’t intentional, I assure you. Anyway, your ankle’s not broken. You just have a bad sprain."
"In your medical opinion," asked Tuvok, "is Mr. Vorik still fit to play?"
"No. I’ve healed the sprain, but he needs to keep off that leg for at least a couple of hours."
Vorik looked extremely put out at that, and was about to protest, when Paris interrupted him. "No buts, you’re coming off. You can cheer from the sidelines."
Paris and the Doctor supported the Vulcan to the benches, amidst applause from the spectators for his bravery. They then made their way back onto the pitch.
"Honestly, Doc," the pilot whispered, "did you have to take out one of our best players?"
"You said to take more risks!" the Doctor hissed back.
"Anyway, you could at least’ve fallen on Harry."
Before the EMH could retort, Tuvok announced the outcome of the Doctor’s actions: the Titans were to have a free kick. The players took their positions.
With Vorik off the pitch, there was no one to mark Kim. The Spartans were working overtime, but they could only concentrate on defence and not attack. By the end of the third quarter the score was 2-1 to the Titans.
"Come on, one more goal!" yelled Paris across the field, trying to get his team’s morale up. But they’d had enough. The game looked set to go to the Titans.
Something completely unexpected happened though, which turned the tables in the Spartans’ favour. Chakotay passed the ball to Ayala, who passed it to Joe Carey. As the Doctor hurtled towards him, Carey decided that he didn’t like his chances, and passed it quickly back in the direction of the goalkeeper. Janeway, who was also down that end, although quite a few metres away from the action, happened to accidentally slip in the mud just as Carey got the ball. Chakotay went out of goal to help her up, not realising that Carey was planning to backpass to him, and the ball rolled merrily in. The score became 2 all, much to Chakotay and Carey’s embarrassment. Torres was furious; even Paris, down the other end of the pitch, could hear her screaming at the pair to wake up and keep their eyes open.
No more goals were scored by the time the whistle was blown. The score was a draw.
"What happens now?" Janeway asked Paris as the teams conferred with each other.
Paris rubbed his neck awkwardly. "Penalty shoot outs."
"What are those?" asked Neelix innocently.
The pilot cleared his throat. "Every member of the team has to take a shot at goal from the penalty line. Whichever team gets the most goals wins."
There was a shocked silence.
"But you know, it’s not so bad. I have complete confidence in each and every one of you."
"You’re lying," accused Seven.
Paris felt four pairs of eyes boring into him. "Okay, maybe not complete confidence. But you’ve come a long way since we first started practising, and Chakotay’s not one of the best goalie’s I’ve ever seen. Just have a go. And if it doesn’t go in; so what. At least we tried."
The Titans were up first, sans Chakotay so that the team numbers would be even. The whole stadium was tense and quiet as Harry Kim took the first shot.
As did Ayala, who was up next.
Joe Carey’s ball, predictably, was a clear miss – it went wide over the crossbar and into the crowd.
Sam Wildman missed also, though it was a good shot.
B’Elanna Torres scored; to Paris’s immense relief she didn’t aim straight for Seven, but placed the ball skilfully in the top corner of the net.
Then it was the Spartans’ turn.
Paris set the standard for his team by getting the first goal.
Janeway was next. The crew watched with baited breath as the Captain kicked the ball with all her Irish strength at the First Officer. Unfortunately, Chakotay blocked it, much to Janeway’s chagrin.
Perhaps this lured the goalkeeper into a temporary false sense of security, for Seven, despite her lack of skill, scored. As did the Doctor.
Neelix was last up. He walked towards the line with a heavy heart, knowing that if he could get the ball in, the Spartans would win. But the trouble was, he was just a lowly chef. He didn’t have the pilot’s accuracy that Tom had. He didn’t have advanced co-ordination like the Doctor. He didn’t have any Borg precision like Seven did. He was just…Neelix.
He glanced sideways at the Spartans. They were all looking doubtful.
He looked the other way to the Titans. They were smiling already.
Then, out of the stillness of the crowd, came a small voice, calling his name. He turned round to see Naomi Wildman in the stands, sitting on the shoulders of Ensign Baytart. "You can do it, Uncle Neelix!" she was shouting.
He smiled, turned round, glared at Chakotay in determination, and kicked the ball with all his might.
The ball travelled up to the crossbar – it looked as if it would go over, but suddenly, by some sheer fluke, it hit the bar at such an angle that it rebounded into the net. Chakotay dove and fell without even touching it.
The crowd leapt up and started cheering at the tops of their voices. The Spartans crowded round the Talaxian, congratulating him, Paris and the Doctor hoisting the cook onto their shoulders, albeit with some difficulty. Someone helped Vorik limp over so that he could join in the celebrations with his team. They’d done it! Against all odds, the Spartans had won!
Chapter 5 - "Someone has to keep the Jefferies tubes clean"
As a thank you to both teams for providing the crew with some much needed entertainment, Paris and Torres had organised a post-match party. After showering and changing into fresh clothes, both teams plus most of the off-duty crew were celebrating the Spartans’ victory in the mess hall.
"How’s that ankle doing?" Paris asked Vorik as he lent over to grab a couple of drinks.
"I believe it has healed quite adequately, thank you Lieutenant," Vorik answered. "Vulcan physiology is designed to withstand immense amounts of pressure."
The Doctor, who happened to be in hearing range, interrupted the two abruptly. "I’d hardly call my falling on to you an ‘immense amount of pressure’."
"Of course not, Doctor, as it was not you who was subjected to it."
"I’ll have you know, Ensign…"
Paris caught sight of Harry entering the mess hall, and moved to greet him, leaving the Doctor and Vorik to argue.
"Harry," he said, handing his friend a drink, "good match, don’t you think?"
"Yeah," said Kim, taking the drink, "Except for the part where the Doc tried to injure me."
"Harry," the pilot said in a chastising tone, "that was an honest accident. The Spartans don’t play dirty."
"Oh…well you had Vorik stuck to me like a leech in the first half, and Neelix getting in my way in the second, what was I supposed to think?"
Paris winced. "Come on, you’re a soccer veteran, we had to do something. Where’d you learn to play like that, anyway?"
"What, were you in the team or something?"
Harry glanced at him and smiled. "I was the captain."
"Tom seems very upset about something," Janeway noted as she selected a sandwich from the buffet at the other end of the mess hall.
Chakotay looked over in the direction of the helmsman, who for some reason had started raising his voice at Harry Kim. "I wouldn’t be too worried," he said, smiling, and turned back to the buffet. "Chilli peppers. Haven’t had them in a while." He was about to put one on his plate, when the Captain stopped him.
"I wouldn’t if I were you," she said, sotto voice. "Neelix gave me one to sample before you got here; it was like eating an army of fire ants. My eyes wouldn’t stop watering."
"Why didn’t you tell him?"
"How could I? He’d spent so long preparing them, so I said they brought back too many memories of Earth and that I couldn’t possibly eat another bite."
The two parted temporarily for Ensign Jenkins to help herself to salad.
"Speaking of saves," Janeway said when the Ensign had moved away, "you could at least have let my penalty shot go in. After all, most of the crew were watching."
Chakotay grinned. "Afraid of losing a little face, Captain?"
"It was *embarrassing*."
"Don’t worry, Kathryn. In a few years time, when you’ve had a chance to improve, I’ll let you have another go."
Janeway’s eyes narrowed. "Holodeck two, 1900 tomorrow. Bring your gloves."
Across the other side of the mess hall, B’Elanna Torres entered, freshly showered. Paris left Harry and Sam Wildman talking, and went to welcome her.
"Hey," he said, giving her a quick kiss.
"What was that for?" she asked.
"Just for saying thanks. Come on, let’s see what Neelix has cooked up."
As they made their way over to the buffet, Tom commented slyly, "guess the Titans didn’t really live up to their name."
B’Elanna shot him a look. "Your winning was a fluke. If Carey hadn’t gone and scored in the wrong net --"
"Hey, we were a player down in the second half. Joe evened things up a little."
"Well, in any case, I’ve made him pay for that goal."
At Paris’ questioning look, she added innocently, "someone has to keep the Jefferies tubes clean."
Later that evening, the celebrations were in full swing. Neelix was in his element as he bustled around, praising the players, tending to the crew, and basking in the compliments that his penalty goal brought him.
It was when he was fetching more drinks from the galley and had placed the tray on the counter that he took a moment to survey the crew.
There was crewman Ayala, laughing with his friends. Ensign Kim, kneeling down beside Naomi Wildman as she showed him her clanger. The Doctor, animatedly describing his goal to a group of crewmen who had missed the first half. The mood was cheerful, buoyant, and all together a great deal happier than a couple of weeks ago. Neelix smiled in satisfaction.
"Remembering your goal?" a voice said in his ear, and he turned to see Tom and B’Elanna at his side.
"No," he answered. "I was just thinking how successful the match was in raising crew morale. Thank you. Both of you."
"It was our pleasure," B’Elanna said sincerely, and smiled at the pilot’s surprised but pleased expression. "I had a lot of fun."
"Good," the cook said enthusiastically, "because whilst I was researching soccer in the computer archives, I came across another sport I thought’d be fun for us to try. Next month, maybe. Sort of a Titans versus Spartans rematch, if you both wouldn’t mind coaching again."
Paris raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"It’s called rugby."
The two Lieutenants started backing away immediately.
"Count me out.
Utterly bemused, Neelix watched them go. "Was it something I said?"
And so Voyager sped on her way, once
again refreshed and ready for adventure.